On 21 July 1991, the Greek tanker Kirki spilled 17,280 tonnes of crude oil off the coast of Western Australia, the biggest oil spill in Australian waters.
The Kirki was a 210-metre-long Greek-registered oil tanker which caught fire in the early morning of 21 July 1991, 30 km west of the fishing town of Cervantes, Western Australia, causing what was the worst oil spill to have occurred in Australian waters.
The ship encountered severe weather and rough seas, which caused leaks and a buildup of water in the ship’s ballast, creating unanticipated strain on the structure.
This eventually resulted in the ship’s bow tearing off, rupturing the forward storage tanks and causing an oil spill estimated at 17,700 tonnes, or 5.2 million gallons.
The oil then caught fire, ignited by damaged electrical cables that were short-circuiting on the severed part of the bow.
The crew sent out a distress call at 3:02am on 21 July, and after it became clear how dire the situation was, the 37-strong crew were evacuated by Australian rescue helicopters over the next few hours.
After the fire was confirmed to be extinguished, the still-leaking ship was towed to Cape Preston by a number of tugboats and an oil rig support vessel, the Lady Kathleen, where the remaining light crude oil and heavy fuel oil were transferred to another tanker, the Flying Clipper, on 18 August.
Kirki was then towed to Singapore, where it was drydocked and dismantled for scrap.
The incident was the subject of a now-famous Clarke & Dawe sketch, “The Front Fell Off” from A Current Affair.